Tag Archives: chords

Learning from the Masters – Part 1

Posted on April 21, 2016 by editor

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We’re going to learn composition techniques through one of the best ways there is to do so: analyzing musical masterpieces and reviewing some of the most interesting aspects they got to offer to make them the great artistic achievement they became. In order to do so we’re reviewing two of the most emblematic classic rock songs of all time: Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

So what are we going to learn? Structural aspects of the music, how these elements interact together, interesting harmonic progressions, chord-melody relationships and other relevant aspects that made these songs the masterworks that are considered today! This type of study will help you to get the best out of your favorite music and apply it to your own compositions!

In this first part we will be discussing Stairway to Heaven, which will have many things to teach us, so stay with us and check it out!

The Structure

When it comes to song analysis the first thing to do is to divide it into the proper sections and review them separately. Since Stairway to Heaven is such a long song – 8:03 minutes long! – to be clear in terms of the parts that compose it is essential to get the most information out of each one of them!

Introduction

The introduction section of a song is used to establish the song’s key and present some of the musical themes we are going to hear and to set the character: it can be the principal melody, the accompaniment theme, a solo over the main chord progression. From 0:00 to 0:52 we can hear the introduction section. It starts with a classical guitar arpeggio in the key of A minor, and it will be the main instrumental theme throughout the whole song. A secondary melody is played by two flutes, which present some of the vocal ideas we’re going to hear later. This is the section for which this song is recognized worldwide! Character is the one of a ballad: slow tempo, lighter texture and soft dynamics (volume).

Verses

In this section the main vocal ideas will be introduced along with the context and thematic of the whole song, the poetic message expressed through the language – lyrics. Singer Robert Plant makes his entrance with the main melody at 0:53 and exposes the ambiguous lyrical message of the song with the following notes:

A – B – C – B – A – B (There’s a lady who’s sure) against an A minor chord

B – C – D – C – B – A (all that glitters is gold) against a G# diminished chord

C – D – E – D – C – B –A – G – A (and she’s buying a stairway to heaven) against A minor and D major chords

As you can see, we can find passing tones between the chord tones and the melody notes, which, as we discussed before in the 4 ways to Develop Instrumental Solos article, adds variety and the singing quality this vocal melody has. If you have any doubts on how to get your chord tones, check out our previous articles where we give you all the info you need!

The verse’s musical idea goes from 0:53 to 2:06, in which a small interlude of the guitar presents a transitional idea consisting of a varied version of the verse and chord progression:

C – C – D – C – B – A (Oh, and it makes me wonder) which repeats twice against an A minor, G major, D major chord progression

After this, we hear the second verse with only a lyrics variation with the same musical ideas we heard before, making it a second verse and extending it to 3:33 for a third variation of the lyrics (therefore it is a third verse) which lasts until 4:18.

At 4:18 another new verse is introduced with the addition of the drum set, which adds for interest, contrasting with the mainly acoustic ideas previously exposed.

In the next part we will discuss and review the rest of the structure, so you can open Songtive and start to develop your own songs with the ideas we learned today from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven! See you next time!

The Four Chords of Pop

Posted on April 13, 2016 by editor

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Today we are talking about the four chords of pop! It is a four chord progression widely used in pop music through the years, and it has a natural attraction that leaves no indifferent listeners. Based in the previous Doo Wop progression we discussed before, it consists of a I – V – vi – IV sequence played in major mode.

Check out these popular songs that use the four chords of pop!

  • Adele – “Someone Like You”
  • Bruno Mars – “The Lazy Song”
  • Imagine Dragons – “Demons”
  • James Blunt – “You’re Beautiful”
  • Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • Men At Work – “Down Under”
  • The Police – “So Lonely”

So the variety of the genres comprehended in this list will give you the idea of how used is this progression in a popular music context!

The Inside

How these simple chords work so well when put together? Let’s take a look at the musical techs that will answer that:

  1. Common Notes: The major part of the most catchy chord progressions we know share this particular aspect. As long as two chords with two or more common notes are put together, a well sounding effect will be achieved. Dividing the progression in two parts we get two common notes chords linked: I – V and VI – IV.
  2. Length: The duration of a chord progression is important when it comes to the song structure. Longer progressions will be used to punctuate a certain musical idea, which helps to the lyrics-music relationship. This particular progression of four chords is mostly used to express a single musical idea because of the amount of chords involved.
  3. Contrast: When putting a VI chord after a V chord, since they do not share any common notes, a surprising effect is achieved. The drastic change of moods when going from a major chord (V) to a minor chord placed just a degree above (VI) gives this progression a contrasting factor that engages the listener.

A Practical Example

We are reviewing Journey’s timeless classic Don’t Stop Believing for you to take a look at how this progression works and structures a song:

The first thing to do is to check out the key in which is it’s written: since the first chord is an E major chord and our progression starts at I (first degree), we will assume we are on E major key. Then we break said major key in its own chords and chord tones:

I – E major: E – G# – B

II – F# minor: F# – A – C#

III – G# minor: G# – B – D#

IV – A major: A – C# – E

V – B major: B – D# – F#

VI – C# minor: C# – E – G#

VII – D# minor: D# – F# – A#

After we do so, it is time to form a four-chords-of-pop progression with:

If you play this progression against Journey’s first verse you’ll see how perfectly it fits! Meaning Don’t Stop Believing first line – “She’s just a small town girl, living in a lonely world” makes use of four chords of pop to express a complete lyrical idea!

Now take a look at how common chord tones interact with each other:

Major key introduction:

I – V: E major and B major are sharing one common note – B note – and make the perfect point to establish the major key since it starts with the chord that gives it the name.

Contrasting turn:

V – VI: B major and C# minor doesn’t share any common notes. This will cause a contrasting and engaging effect on the listener. Since both chords are contained in E major key it won’t hurt the stability of the song.

Wrapping it up

VI – IV: The closing of the progression makes use of the two common notes sharing between these two chords. C# minor and A major shares both E and C# as their common notes! The subtle change of mood between them makes it a delightful closing.

Now it’s time to practice the effectiveness of this progression in your own songs and musical ideas! Remember to try all these progressions with all the major keys you can think of, so you get used to its sonority! See you next time, when we will talk about modulation – or ‘chord borrowing’, as you may heard it!

Doo Wop Progression

Posted on April 7, 2016 by songtive

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Today in Songtive.com we’ll be analyzing a popular chord progression. It’s called the ‘Doo Wop Progression’, and is one of the most popular harmonic cycles ever! It consists of a I – VI – IV – V progression that defined an era, as you will see. Many songs going from jazz standards to timeless classics of pop ballads and rock and roll hits spawning around 50 years of music history! Wow! Now that’s something, doesn’t it? Let’s check out some examples:

  • The Righteous Brothers – “Unchained Melody”
  • Billy Joel – “Uptown Girl”
  • Carly Rae Jepsen- “Call Me Maybe”
  • Ben E. King – “Stand By Me”
  • Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
  • The Police – “Every Breath You Take”
  • Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name”
  • Chubby Checker – “Let’s Twist Again”
  • David Bowie – “Ashes to Ashes”
  • Lana Del Rey – “Prom Song (Gone Wrong)”

That’s quite a list, don’t you think? And this is just a small part of the long repertoire containing this popular chord progression!

Where does it come from?

This progression is born out of the Doowop style, a genre which was very popular during the 1940s to the early 1960s. It consisted of a 3 to 4 part choir using close harmonies, usually male choirs. It takes some influence from gospel music and introduces the concept of making it just for fun, treating more relaxed subjects from everyday life, without the praising element of gospel music.

They relied on simple-but-effective chord progressions that helped to define the style, like the one we are discussing today!

Why does it work?

If look closely to the order of the chords, you can see that it resembles an authentic cadence, which is a device to give conclusion to a musical idea – as we already discussed in a previous article. The first part goes from I – VI – IV and all the chord contained in here are sharing common notes, which makes it sound good and coherent; the final part closes this musical thought with a cadence V – I which happens when you repeat the progression, making it a wonderful resource for a verse or a chorus because of its length.

A Musical Example

Let’s take Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ to analyze the effect this progression has. The overall impact ‘Stand By Me’ had in the music history is undeniable, and the mix of lyrics and 50s feel this progression gives to it is one of the elements that made it unforgettable:

From the start you can hear the bass setting up the Doo Wop Progression:

Let’s take it upon the analysis we talked before:

  1. Break the first part into chord tones:
    A major: A – C# – E
    F# minor: F# – A – C#
    D major: D – F# – A
    As you can see every chord shares two common notes with the next one, making it sound great due to consonance principles we discussed in a previous article
  2. Check the cadence:
    When you repeat the chord progression you create a cadence going from V to I. Going from E major (E- G# – B) to A major (A – C# – E) makes the G# (a leading tone) go to A (the tonic of the song), thus making it a sure hit to close a musical phrase

That’s it! Now you can go and share your musical thoughts exploring a new chord progression that will quickly structure your music using Songtive for iOS/Android/Web! See you next time!